Joseph R. Biden has won the race for the White House. The former Vice-President and long-serving US Senator will be the 46th President of the United States, after a hard-fought and bitterly contentious campaign that exposed the depth and frequently febbrile character of the sharp divisions running through American society.
Biden is the first Catholic to win the presidency since John F. Kennedy in 1960, though parts of his voting record and some of his policy stances throughout his career were — and are — at odds with Church teaching on the public duties of anyone professing the Catholic faith, making his relationship with the Catholic hierarchy uneasy and giving many citizens otherwise well-disposed to him significant pause.
In a statement issued after several news outlets called the race for him, Biden called for healing and national unity: “With the campaign over,” he said, “it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation.” He also stated, “It’s time for America to unite. And to heal. We are the United States of America. And there’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.”
Saying does not make it so, however.
Newsmen and pundits from across the spectrum of opinion agreed that the task of convincing people on the other side would be difficult. The many citizens who do not share his view of policy or basic presuppositions about fundamental questions will need to be able to find in him a trustworthy chief executive and advocate. That will be a tough sell, and time to close is short.
It also remains to be seen whether he will make good on many of his campaign promises — especially to the abortion interest — which many voters, and many of them Catholic — simply could not stomach. Many of those issues — and the promises in their regards — have implications far beyond the narrow question of abortion policy. If a great many citizens now look with hope in these regards, a great many others look with trepidation.
In the short term, the most pressing issues depend on winning the battle against the novel coronavirus that has claimed a quarter-million lives in the US on outgoing President Donald Trump’s watch and wreaked havoc not only on the US economy but around the world, where the virus has killed more than 1.25 million people and disrupted life in ways not seen for a hundred years in peacetime.
President-elect Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, is also poised to make history when she takes the oath of office in January as the first woman to serve as Vice President of the United States and the first person of colour to hold the second-highest office in the land.
“It’s about the soul of America,” Vice President-elect Harris tweeted after the announcement of her ticket’s victory, “and our willingness to fight for it.”
In the US system, the Vice President’s official duties are to preside over the Senate — a task usually performed by a president pro tempore elected from the body — and cast a vote only in the case of a tie. Otherwise, the Vice President is simply first in the line of presidential succession. That fact was an issue during campaign season, which pitted two men older than 70 against each other — Biden is 77 and Trump turns 75 in June — making the prospect of presidential death or incapacity more likely than it has been in some time.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Harris went on to say. “Let’s get started.”
After inconclusive results on Election Day, the country entered a days-long phase of watching and waiting for the ballot count to give some certainty. The Biden/Harris ticket took three swing states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — that Trump had carried in 2016 to the surprise and dismay of Democrats. Biden was leading in Arizona and Georgia as well — traditional Republican strongholds — as well as in Nevada. Biden had amassed more than 74.4 million votes — a record — surpassing by four million the impressive popular numbers Trump posted.
If a lot of people voted for Biden/Harris, a lot of people also voted against them — and many of the votes cast for them were cast from a place of disgust with the character and conduct of the incumbent more than any sympathy for either the top or the bottom of the Democratic ticket. The same is true vice versa.
So, the work of healing in the nation in body and soul is cut out not only for the winners of the 2020 presidential cycle, but for the American people: “America,” President-elect Biden tweeted shortly after noon EST on Saturday, “I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country.” He went on to say, “The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a President for all Americans,” those of his fellows who cast with him and those who did not. “I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”